Understanding and Preventing Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities

In March of 2012, Vera’s Center on Victimization and Safety partnered with the Ms. Foundation for Women to ensure that existing efforts to address sexual abuse of children are inclusive of children with disabilities. They also sought to increase the number and breadth of efforts that are specifically addressing sexual abuse of children with disabilities.
In the first phase of the project, Vera sought to learn more about the factors that contribute to sexual abuse of children with disabilities and to determine what can be done to prevent it, as well as recommend holistic responses that involve victim services, disability services, law enforcement, police, schools, and community members. To that end, we conducted a literature review and informational interviews, and convened a national roundtable discussion on the topic. We engaged experts from a wide variety of backgrounds: people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, advocates for children with disabilities, advocates for survivors of child abuse, law enforcement personnel, and other professionals who support children with disabilities. We published the findings from this analysis in a research and policy brief entitled Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot.

Vera is continuing its partnership with the Ms. Foundation by working together to create a blueprint for a national strategy to address sexual abuse of children with disabilities based on the findings from our prior research. The intent of the blueprint is to outline policy and practice recommendations so our country’s prevention, intervention, and accountability efforts better account for the realities and unique needs of children with disabilities. To develop the blueprint, Vera will work closely with a National Working Group comprised of public and private funders, government officials, policymakers and practitioners in the fields of child advocacy, sexual assault, disability, and sex offender management; criminal justice system personnel; and people with disabilities and their family members. Vera will convene the Working Group three times and use the information gleaned from expert testimony and other research to draft and publish the blueprint, which will be available Spring 2015.

Why This Work Matters

Children with disabilities are three times more likely than children without them to be victims of sexual abuse, and the likelihood is even higher for children with certain types of disabilities, such as intellectual or mental health disabilities. However, sexual abuse of children with disabilities has not garnered the attention of policymakers, practitioners, advocates, or community members and these children are also less likely to receive victim services and supports because of a variety of physical, attitudinal, and programmatic barriers.  Without receiving support, these children suffer serious long-term aftereffects, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, as well as an increased risk of victimization in adulthood.